Adam’s Verdict 4/5
By the time a franchise gets to the third film in a series the plot and audience are pretty well established. The Hunger Games has the benefit of the story escalating so quickly throughout each installment that the third iteration can still be fresh and bring something new to the series. In the case of Mockingjay Part 1, almost everything is new.
WARNING! SLIGHT SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE PREVIOUS FILMS
The previous two films saw reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) shoved into combat against her will. Mockingjay picks up almost immediately after Catching Fire. There is so much that Mockingjay does right it almost covers up what it does wrong. Katniss was forced to fight, and kill. She saw her home change and then learned of its destruction. She feels directly responsible for massive loss of life of strangers and acquaintances. She is haunted by the destruction of one of the only people to remain innocent throughout their terrible ordeals, a boy who has done nothing but love her and remain true to himself, Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss is plagued by PTSD (Posttraumatic stress disorder). She sees the atrocities she was forced to be a part of constantly. She can’t sleep and is too angry to face the future.
A new faction has risen in Panem, a rebellion against the controlling government is underway and the heads of the new regime want to use the momentum toward freedom that Katniss inadvertently started during her first Hunger Games two years previous. Needing a symbol for the rebellion, President Coin (Julianne Moore) and former Game Maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles) want Katniss to be the center of their propaganda.
Mockingjay handles the atrocities of war, the price the innocents have to pay, and PTSD with such magnificence it’s hard to call the film anything but tragically beautiful. Lawrence goes from strong, to angry, to entirely and completely mentally broken. Her character wants to solve the problems effecting those that are close to her, she isn’t interested in the Capital and the larger fight. She is still something of a child at heart. It isn’t that she was okay with how things were, her years of illegal hunting and trading before she was forced to be a soldier are evidence enough of that. Katniss’s long term friend and hunting partner, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), is finally able to bring his character into a third dimension. Brief glimpses at his rebellious nature and sense of duty were delicately placed in the first two films of the series but now Hemsworth is given more than a few short moments on screen. The rebellion is what Gale was born for and Hemsworth walks the line between tragic soldier and fiery revolutionary. He was the one to try and lead a mass exodus out of his district when the Capital came to punish the people for being from the same town as Katniss. He did what he could but can’t live with himself for not doing more. Gale is at the forefront of every movement, he gets himself close to the leaders of the rebellion and is first in line for every mission.
Woody Harrelson reprises his role as Haymitch, but Haymitch seems in the movie out of obligation more than necessity. Absent for a large portion of the beginning he isn’t there to guide the kids, his character’s role in the film is mostly taken over by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee. Elizabeth Banks comes back as a muted version of her over the top but naive character Effie Trinket. Effie is living with the rebels and denied the insane outfits she hid behind in previous films. Effie’s role is limited similar to Haymitch’s but once she finds her place in the new world she is a part of Banks does a great job of having her character rise to the challenge. Josh Hutcherson makes the largest transformation in Mockingjay. Peeta was a well mannered kid who loved Katniss in the first and second films. He wasn’t a warrior and wanted to stay who he was inside, but he wasn’t squeamish either. In Mockingjay, Peeta is revealed to be alive (not a spoiler since this massive bomb was ruined in every commercial and promo for the film). Peeta shows up on a Capital talk show alongside a less flamboyant Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Hutcherson’s screen time is limited in the third installment of this franchise that will likely boost his career to all new levels, but every scene he has is strong and his presence is overwhelming throughout the entire story. His character’s stability deteriorates every time he is shown. The results are heartbreaking. Hutcherson takes his performance to Christian Bale like levels with looking gaunt and terrifying to the point where he looks like Smeagol clutching the One Ring by the end of the film and not the pleasant baker’s boy he used to be.
The setting of Mockingjay is primarily in underground bunkers. The movie often feels claustrophobic and drab. This is obviously done intentionally but it does take something away from the cinema experience. In our modern world of big screens and big sound, a gray and brown movie with shaky cam close ups on actors leaves a lot to be desired visually.
The largest flaw in Mockingjay is the lack of content. Everything they do, they do incredibly well, but the studios decision to divide the movie into two parts, doubling its profit margin, stretched the content of the story too far. Two full hours are sent setting up Katniss as a symbol for the rebellion. The rebellion is talked about an awful lot, but shown very little. The view from the Capitol and the view from District 13 are both speculation only as far as the audience knows. Destruction is shown afterwards and the atrocities of war are painted only on the actor’s faces, not on screen. The stretched out content makes the two hour movie feel longer than it should. A single three hour tie up to the Hunger Games saga would do the fans more justice, but not the stockholders.
Usually a final thought on when and if you should see the movie comes here. I say see it, I also say see it in the theater if you’re a fan of the series. If you are following the series by obligation then wait for home viewing as there is nothing big screen about it. If you didn’t care for the first two, this one may be up your alley since Mockingjay takes the story out of the arena and into the wider world of Panem.
Review via Sit Down, Shut Up.
Markellus’s Verdict 3/5
Another year another Hunger Games. I actually had read the books before the movies came out and I will say that as much as I like the first one, the series got worse with each book. That being said, I was optimistic that when Francis Lawrence took over the franchise, he would make cinematically better versions of the books. I really thought the second movie was fantastic.
Although I enjoyed Part 1, I did feel like it was too long. Because of the structural revamp from the past movies, there’s no “games” to follow, meaning we’re in new territory. Unfortunately where we are isn’t as tension filled as the “games”, so we depend on our connection with the characters to keep us interested in the new challenges they are facing. There’s a lot of talking and exposition and very little action (at least for me), but it does end on a nice cliffhanger which should make the final chapter a nice roller coaster ride.